Category Archives: culture

Pageantry at West Hill Pond

From a 1947 newspaper clipping comes this report of activities on West Hill Lake (or Pond) in the early twentieth century:

“Cottage dances, too, were often held, the orchestral instruments consisting of mandolin, harmonica, paper and combs, jews harps, and a ‘real tin kettle’ drum. Later on a small portable ‘pianner’ that could be taken by hand or boat from cottage to cottage was procured and the acme of perfection was reached in all things musical. Water pageants also were frequently held with gayly (sic) decorated boats moving silently and gracefully over the lake waters, with the improvised orchestra and double quartet of ‘mixed’ voices serenading various shore groups.”

The catch, of course, was that many of the people in these theatricals and musical performances were involved, some of them professionally, in the performing arts; so, despite the dubious orchestral instruments, the quality of both the music and the singing was probably quite good. Lit by bonfires and kerosene lamps in the cabins, these nights have a story-book sense, almost too strong to be real.

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The English Literature Club

For at least a few years during World War One, New Hartford had an English Literature Club. Although the name would suggest that they concentrated on literature; the programs indicate  the members interests were far more wide ranging.

“Australia: The Original Inhabitants”

“Knowing One’s Community”

“Electricity: Talking by Wire and Wireless”

Robert Louis Stevenson: Life and Works”

“Reading: the Suppression of Important News from “Changing America”

“Evolution of Home-Making and Home-Keeping”

and so forth, every week between October and April.

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Excerpt’s From ‘Home’

‘Home: A Novel’ was written by George Agnew Chamberlain and published by Century Company in 1914.  The book is centered on three houses on the top of ‘Red Hill’.  A summer guest in New Hartford for many years, Chamberlain modeled the houses (and borrowed a few people, though not the story line) on three houses on the top of Town Hill in New Hartford.

“For such a one Red Hill held locked a message, and the key to the lock was the message itself: “Turn your back on the paralleled rivers and railroads and plunge into the byways that lead to the eternal hills and you will find the world that was and still is.”

Let such a traveler but follow a lane that leads up through willow and elderberry, sassafras, laurel, wild cherry and twining clematis; a lane aligned with slender wood-maples, hickory and mountain-ash and flanked where it gains the open with scattered juniper and oak, and he will come out at last on the scenes of a country’s childhood.

At right angles to the lane, a broad way, cutting the length of the hill, and losing itself in a dip at each end toward the valleys and the new world. The broad way is shaded by one of two trees, the domed maple or the stately elm. At the summit of its rise stands an old church whose green shutters blend with caressing foliage of primeval trees…..

….Some of these clustered homes live the year round at full swing but the life of some is cut down in winter to a minimum only to spring up afresh in the summer like the new stalk from a treasured bulb. Of such was the little kingdom of Red Hill.”

The three houses on Town Hill have since been joined by many more; the elms are long gone; and there are no more summer homes on the hill. However, the elderberry and sassafras, the cherry, the oak all remain.  And at this time of year, as one drives up the hill, the clematis are white veils drifting down through the trees. Timeless? no. Yet, there is an age there, an age that all old New England town centers have, though the road flashes past across the top of the eternal hills.

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Musical Notations

Selections from a concert, date unknown (but definitely early twentieth century), by the New Hartford Village Band.  There were 45 pieces performed, almost all were short marches, dances, or waltzes.  The names are emphatically American/Northern European/Scottish/German/and what might be called ‘Imperial’.  It must have been quite the evening of dancing for the audience.  These performances were as much about giving the audience a chance to dance as they were about the actual music.

The dance may have taken place in several different locations.  The Community House, which is now the Post Office Lot, is a very likely location; this was used for a wide range of events: from dinners to dances, and the occasional relief effort following an emergency, and was in use until the building burned in the 1940’s. It is also possible that the Town Hall’s Meeting Hall, located on the third story and an elegant space spanning the entire story, was used.  This space gradually became filled in during the late twentieth century with offices.  However, following the 1998 expansion it was restored to its former splendor.  The other alternative, least likely, was the Star Theatre, which was primarily a movie theater, but may have had the space for the audience to dance.  The Star, located right against the Farmington River, was destroyed in a flood.

“Star Spangled Banner’

‘La Fayette’s March’

‘Colburn’s Quick March’

‘Saxon Waltz’

‘Auld Lang Syne’

‘Swiss Guard’s March’

‘Lord Hardwick’s March’

‘General Bolivar’s March’

‘New York March’

‘Old Hundred’

‘Home, Sweet Home’

 

 

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Milestones of a Dubious Nature

In the world of iphones, cameras, and instant visual access, the idea that photography and video might not be instantly accessible is almost absurd.

However, the first time that still photography and video photography was allowed in a Connecticut Superior Court was for a New Hartford case.  In June 1982, a ‘one-year experiment’ began which allowed television and still photography in the courtroom.  The first case was the dispute over the tubing in the Satan’s Kingdom on the Farmingon River, which revolved mostly around zoning permits.

There were concerns that a fair trial would be prejudiced by the television cameras.  The newspaper carefully noted that the camera followed the judge in; the location of the microphones throughout the room, that in order for the sound and picture to be transmitted cables were laid which ran out into the hallway where the technicians were, and how the technicians communicated with each other.  The reporter noted though, that after a few minutes of continuous filming, the proceedings slowed ‘to a crawl.’  “The cameraman began to shut off the camera frequently, sitting down for long periods of time. The crew left during the lunch recess.”

The trial was not particularly affected by the cameras.  Yet, the fact that the trial (which is part of a dispute that fills a good-sized folder) was more interesting for its television presence is notable.  Technology is constantly shifting; to see that what we now take for granted was once nerve-wracking and newsworthy is a useful reminder.

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The New Hartford Wheel Club

During the late 1890’s and the early twentieth century, bicycle clubs were very popular.  New Hartford’s bicycle club (the Wheel Club) had close to 30 members.  It met in North Village.  The club member went on many rides, including ‘century’ rides of a 100 miles in a day.  These were generally done in a wide loop.  It should be remembered that the roads of the time were not paved, but were soft sand and dirt.  Furthmore, the bikes were heavier and bicycling gear was composed of ‘knickers, soft shirts, and caps’ though one member persisted in wearing: ‘a coat, vest, trousers, and a derby’.  Races were often held: sprints, miles, races between the ‘high-wheel’ or ‘penny-farthing’ and the more modern style of bike, and slow races where the object was to come in last and with the slowest time.

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Prominent Women

The New Hartford Historical Society’s new exhibit: ‘Prominent Women’ introduces people to authors, singers, and businesswomen: opera, late nineteenth/early-mid twentieth century fiction, Connecticut politics and business in late twentieth century… 

Studying Nelia Gardener White, for example, leads one to World War II, the reaction of authors to it, and the use of fictional short-stories to explain the war’s impact.  Or perhaps one is curious about religion and responses to chronic illness in New England during the mid 1800’s: Chloe Langkton’s life is a fascinating glimpse.  Perhaps it is the story of Clara Louise Kellogg: a native of New Hartford who was one of the first American opera singers to travel to and successfully perform in Europe, at a time when the United States was only beginning to take its place on the world stage.  Perhaps it is the story of Lillian Ludlam, whose Foothills Trader paper remains an icon of Litchfield County.  All of these stories, and others, lead into a range of experiences that no one individual could encompass.

Maybe the questions that arise have less to do with the individuals and more to do with New Hartford.  Why New Hartford, after all?  What forces created a veritable artists’ colony between the 1870’s and the 1950’s?   Does the fact that many of these women knew each other play a role?  For they did: an intricate web of relationships can be traced in the letters, diaries, and guest-books.  Perhaps it was the location: an easy trip from New York City by train made it ideal for weekend retreats and summers.  One answer leads to another question.

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Gypsies

Gypsies are not usually associated with Connecticut history.  However, an article in the Winsted Citizen from 1947 reported that in the late 1800’s gypsies did visit the region on a routine basis.  There was a large horse market in Hartford that was operated by the gypsy ‘King’.  During the winter, the gypsies went south.  During the summer, there was apparently an encampment on the upper reaches of the Greenwoods Pond on the line between Barkhamsted and New Hartford.  Here the men would trade horses while the women would peddle lace, fabric, baskets, and jewelry.  The gypsies travelled in covered and open wagons, pulled by horses and usually with several spare horses in tow.

“The gypsy men wandered far afield, sold, and traded horses. The women cooked over open fires, sang and laughed as they maintained a kind of family life with the big covered wagons as homes. Pleasant afternoons certain of the women would emerge. Dressed in bright colors, full flowing skirts with contrasting blouses, many necklaces and bracelets, big ear rings, black shining hair parted in the middle, their bright bold eyes flashed warily as they kept a look-out for possible customers. They carried baskets and laces over their arms and went door to door selling their wares  and soliciting business in fortune telling.”

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Ice fishing

In Southern New England, it is only really during January and February that pond or lake ice is thick enough to allow ice-fishing.  West Hill pond is the only major water body in town where ice-fishing still takes place and it has supported ice-fishing since the earliest days.  When it existed, Greenwoods Pond probably supported ice-fishing.  Ice-fishing, like all other forms of fishing varies between communal and solitary.  The village of Nepaug once supported a communal form of ice-fishing.  Once the Nepaug River was frozen, especially in the slow shallows near the church, a communal drive could take place.  These drives were aimed mostly at catching eastern or white suckers, a schooling, bottom feeder that once existed in great numbers, prior to the building of the Nepaug Reservoir (though its decline may not be causally connected).  The Nepaug fishermen used spears to catch these fish and caught them in sufficient numbers that an even distribution of the fish amongst the participants was a matter of course.  Although the sucker has numerous small bones, it is reported that these fish, being caught in the late winter, were a welcome addition to dinner.

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Considering Scrapbooks

One of the more interesting sections of the archive is the collection of scrapbooks.  The art, or practice, of scrapbooks is very much a lost art in today’s society.  Scrapbooks were not, in general, collections of photographs; after all, many were created well before the advent of the camera.  Instead, they tended to be a collection of cards, newspaper clippings, and a variety of other materials: tickets to shows, calling cards, sketches, really anything that could be pasted into a book.  In almost all cases, they tended to be built up over a period of time, containing things of specific, but often passing and varied interest to the collector.  One might profitably compare them to a favorites collection for the internet, bookmarks that hook into a wide variety of subjects.

This, however, tends to make them at once endlessly fascinating for the casual reader and maddeningly enigmatic.  Why was the person collecting every newspaper clipping about an obscure subject?  Rarely is there any explanation given.  Without this commentary, scrapbooks (like favorites) can lead the researcher astray; they can also open up entirely new facets of personality, hitherto hidden.

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